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Millburn Resident's Work Is for the Heart

Heart & Sole Walk will benefit the work done to treat those with heart failure or are in need of a heart transplant.

When people think about heart transplants and treating heart failure, they may not think of Newark.

But Newark Beth Israel Medical Center's program, which is headed by Millburn resident Mark Zucker, has a higher success rate for heart transplants after one year than Columbia University Medical Center. Between 35-40 heart transplants are performed in Newark each year, and it is the largest program in New Jersey and one of the largest in the country.

Zucker said the number of transplants that are done nationally barely touch the number of people who need one, which is why he and other doctors work on creating mechanical devices to help people suffering from heart failure. "If there isn't a heart available, this could be a viable alternative," he said.

 But the work done in Newark is in constant need of more funding. Zucker said most hospitals are losing money today rather than making money, which is why it is hard for them to fund projects.

That's where the Heart & Sole Walk comes in to help. The annual walk will be held Sunday at Verona Park. Registration begins at 10 a.m. and the walk starts at 11 a.m. Early registration can be done through the medical center's Web site.

The walk raises money to benefit the program's work in helping those who suffer from heart failure or may need a heart transplant.

Zucker said it's a blessing the money is raised each year to help the program. For example, there's a procedure to restore heart function by implanting new cells, but the doctors needed a $150,000 machine, he said. The machine allows doctors to know where in the heart the cells should be implanted. The money raised from the walk helped pay for the machine, Zucker said.

Additionally, the walk raises awareness about not only heart transplants but also heart failure. Over 5.5 million people suffer heart failure each year and it's the top reason why people are admitted to teh hospital, Zucker said. Nine out of 10 of those patients can be treated medically, he said.

But heart transplants are still considered as an experimental and dangerous procedure although they've been standard for more than 20 years, Zucker said. Angioplasty has existed for a shorter amount of time, he said, and people don't think it's nearly as dangerous as a heart transplant.

Zucker, who also sits on the Millburn Board of Education, joined the heart transplant team at Loyola University in 1987 before moving to New Jersey. He's performed 650-700 heart transplants over the course of his career, including about 530 in New Jersey.

"Like so many things in life, it was an accident," Zucker said of how he got involved with heart transplants.

He was looking for a job when a colleague reached out to say he needed people to join his heart transplant team. "I said (heart transplants) had never been done, and he said no one had tried yet," he said.

He interviewed for the job, joined the team and found he liked the work. "It's an opportunity to make a different in the live of someone who is truly sick," Zucker said. Most patients will go on to lead a healthy, normal life after a heart transplant, he said.

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